Learning about alternatives

You can learn a lot about a belief system by examining how its adherents react to alternative beliefs.

I got started thinking about this back when I first read that story about the Vatican’s planned program to invite atheists and agnostics to debate Catholicism “with some of the Catholic Church’s top theologians.” I was initially both amused and excited by this prospect, but I was deflated when I read that “atheists with high public profiles such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens will not be invited.” They’re happy to debate with atheists, but only with regular people who happen to be atheists, and not with people who have made a career out of writing books and giving talks on the subject. Meanwhile, those regular people will be debating “top theologians,” not with regular people who happen to be Catholics.

It sure sounds like they’re afraid of something, doesn’t it? If they’re not willing to subject their ideology to scrutiny from people who actually know how to scrutinize it, that sounds to me like an implicit admission that they know their beliefs wouldn’t hold up. I read on a couple atheist blogs about this particular problem, and about the ridiculousness of the Vatican trying to improve their image this way, but the general topic has been percolating in my mind for a while now. I don’t have much to add to those posts about this particular example, but I do think it highlights a broad feature in the continuum of ways that people think about their own beliefs.

At one extreme, you have groups like the FLDS church or David Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult that wall themselves off from society, forbidding members to interact at all with the outside world. Slightly inward from that, though, are the parents who homeschool their children so they won’t have to study under those evilutionists and forbid them from playing with neighborhood children being raised in family structures that have been deemed unsavory. And of course there are the traditions (including Catholicism) which formally excommunicate those with dissenting opinions, or if not quite that extreme do teach that questioning dogma and entertaining alternative viewpoints are sinful and shameful things to do. This is common among religions, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to them — extreme political factions are prone to this as well (though to be fair, those are often tied to religious dogma).

At the other extreme, you have people who study other beliefs and traditions, travel to other places, read people who don’t agree with them — generally follow the “walk a mile in their shoes” philosophy. They try to understand people who hold different views than they do, or at least get some sense of where they are coming from. In my experience, people of this sort tend to be relatively moderate in their political views; once you understand the logic of the other side, it’s harder to be dead-set against them. As far as religion goes, it’s my experience that they tend to be liberal in their beliefs (arguing that there can be many correct ways to worship God, no one goes to hell, etc.) or they tend to be nonbelievers (because once you’ve seen that all religions are equally pulled from thin air with no basis in reliable fact, it’s hard to get behind any of them).

I like to think that I am somewhere around this latter extreme, so I guess I should start saying “we” instead of “they.”

So, the thing is, even when we have reached the conclusion that there probably is no God, we hang onto this “walk a mile in their shoes” business. The parenting philosophy I most often hear advocated by atheists involves letting your children learn about what others believe, and inviting them to decide what makes the most sense for them. The process itself is important. If my (as-yet-hypothetical) children decide to be religious, that’s their choice — though I am fairly confident that by teaching them how to learn and question and analyze and think for themselves, they will reach the same conclusions that so many of us already have. The possibility of having fundie children someday doesn’t seem significant, and doesn’t worry me a bit.

People at the opposite end of this continuum, though, seem to me to be displaying severe uncertainty about their views, possibly even certainty that their views are wrong. Look at what they are saying by walling themselves and their families off from the world — “If you knew what they were teaching out there, you’d almost definitely believe them and not us, so we have to make sure you never learn what they’re saying!” They are admitting that the only way to keep members of their group in is to prevent them from finding out that anyone else thinks differently. It’s not as though they’re teaching people not to be swayed by rhetoric, to focus instead on facts and evidence. They’re teaching people to close their eyes and cover their ears — to refrain from even glancing at the full set of facts and evidence.

What is the rational response to such a teaching? I would argue that even if you are raised in such an environment, and have not actually seen these other facts that your authority figures are so sure would cause you to disbelieve in their teachings, the best course of action is to disbelieve their teachings pronto. Their message, loud and clear, is that a fully informed person would not believe them. The best you can do, before you are able to access that information firsthand, is to defer to your future self and start disbelieving them now.

Of course, there are people who aren’t so extreme in these tendencies — who merely frown upon the investigation of alternative viewpoints rather than shunning them altogether. They might encourage weak forms of such investigation while ruling out serious kinds. (The Catholic clergy aren’t outright refusing to debate religion with nonbelievers, they’re just refusing to debate the people who are likely to be most skilled at it.)

Still, I think this provides a meaningful way to gauge the value of a belief system. Look at how willing an individual is to learn about beliefs different from their own, or how willing they are to allow their followers to do the same. I maintain that their willingness is directly proportional to how reasonable their beliefs are, and in turn, how seriously we ought to take them.

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26 Comments

  1. If they’re not willing to subject their ideology to scrutiny from people who actually know how to scrutinize it,

    That’s just the thing, though: Dawkins, Hitchens, and New Atheists in general don’t actually know how to scrutinize it.They do know how to make absurd generalizations and vitriolic rants based on isolated extremes. Dawkins, especially, is a tool. Great when writing about science, not as much so on religion or philosophy.

    I do agree that “lay atheists” vs. “top theologians” seems odd.

  2. I don’t think that the Vatican is saying “lay atheists” though. What they say is “noble atheism” and “noble agnosticism” rather than the “polemical” or “militant” kind.

    Basically, what it seems to me (and this post really just confirms this thought process) is that many atheists believe that atheism MUST be polemical, rude, whatever you want to call it, to be rhetorically effective. They (and you, NFQ) seem to believe that when the Vatican refuses Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., they are categorically refusing the “best” proponents of atheism because they are afraid of actually engaging atheism and atheists.

    I know there’s popular talk about tone trolls or whatever, but strictly speaking, I think it’s sad if we consider Dawkins or Hitchens “the people who are most likely to be skilled at debate.”

  3. The Vatican listed Dawkins and Hitchens (and some others) as examples in their public statement, but I was under the impression that the main thing was about “atheists with high public profiles.” That’s from the Independent article, and I didn’t read the entirety of the Vatican’s press release or whatever, just the parts quoted there, so I could be wrong — but I suspect that anyone who had made a habit of debating Christians and had published books explaining why people should not be Christians would be labeled as having a “high public profile” or even as a “New Atheist,” since that term seems to mean anything that anyone wants at the time, and therefore excluded from this program. These are the people who I think would tend to be the best proponents of atheism — people who have made their career around it. It’s my experience that anyone that devoted to atheist activism gets called “angry” and “polemical,” the same way that putting up a billboard saying that atheists exist is deemed gravely offensive.

    If the Catholic church finds it “polemical” to point out that child molestation on an unprecedented scale followed by an equally unprecedented cover-up is illegal as well as extraordinary morally repugnant — so be it. If it’s deemed “polemical” to feel it important to actively convince you to be an atheist, rather than just quietly pointing out that one holds a different opinion than you and waiting to be acknowledged — I just don’t know what to say. Do you think the Catholic church never aggressively proclaims itself to be right? The standard just seems deeply unfair, if what you are actually focused on is serious debate. If you are looking for meek and ill-informed opponents to crush with nuances of ancient Hebrew that took decades to learn, then this system sounds awesome.

  4. High public profiles for what? For arguing more with “irony” and “sarcasm,” and being “polemic.” Clearly, the examples of Hitchens and Dawkins are enough to know what the Vatican is talking about here…

    Again, if you truly think Dawkins and Hitchens are the “best proponent of atheism”, then I guess we should just lament the relative intellectual shallowness of the tradition right now.

    You keep this false dichotomy…where you have “Dawkins and Hitchens” on the one hand (or people like them)…and you have “meek and ill-informed” on the other hand.

    I don’t know about you, but I think Dawkins, who ADMITTED that he didn’t know much about theology and doesn’t believe he needs to know much about theology to debate it (but then again, PZ Myers would back him up with the Courtier’s Reply…), shouldn’t really count as “informed” for the atheist side. If this is the dichotomy that we must have, with Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., representing the forefront of atheist rhetoric and debate, with everyone else being “meek” and “ill-informed,” then I think we should feel quite ashamed.

  5. NFQ,

    These are the people who I think would tend to be the best proponents of atheism — people who have made their career around it.

    I’m pretty sure I understand the underlying logic here. It’s along the same lines as taking your car to a mechanic when it breaks down. Right? At the same time, if your Honda broke down, you wouldn’t take it to a mechanic that specializes in air-cooled VW engines.

    I think your mention of Dawkins and Hitchens threw me off. It sounded like you were actually endorsing them as competent atheist scholars or something.

  6. Andrew / NFQ,

    Who would either of you recommend [on the atheist side, that is]? Though I definitely don’t swallow everything he wrote whole, the late Bertrand Russell is – in my opinion – an example of a level-headed, non-polemical thinker. I’m not aware of any other atheist thinkers of that caliber, though I believe they exist.

  7. cl,

    I agree with the Bertrand Russell call. I personally have a rather different look on atheism than this hyper-rational, scientifically obsessed atheism so I don’t particularly keep up with a lot of the names and figures. I know that many atheists will cringe and gnash (since he wasn’t an atheist to his death), but antony flew certainly would be considered level-headed, and non-polemical, IMO.

  8. Andrew: I’m sorry, but it seems like you didn’t even read my comment. I was saying that I think the Catholic church would likely characterize anyone who’d written books about atheism or participated in previous public debates as having a “high public profile,” would characterize anyone who’d devoted significant effort to trying to convince religious people to stop being religious as “polemical.” (I’ve used some harsh words towards religion on this blog before; I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that that disqualified me in the eyes of the Vatican.) If you cut out all those people, I think the vast majority of the people left would be accurately described as “meek” and “ill-informed.” If I’m wrong, then great! But the Catholic church example was just an example, not the point of my post.

    cl: I agree with your mechanic analogy, but I am not sure what you are trying to get at with the Honda/VW extension. Also, I’m glad you find Russell to have been level-headed and not polemical, but he’s said a number of things (many of the quotes on that page) I think could easily be characterized as angry or rude. I have no idea what standard the Vatican would apply. … Who would I recommend? I don’t know — go to your local bookstore, look in the religion section for books on atheism — probably most of those people. They might not all be good, but someone who’s written a book about the problems with Catholic doctrine is probably going to be better in this debate than someone who makes YouTube videos in response to Bible-thumpers, who is in turn probably going to be better than someone who just never went to church and is not too fond of evangelists coming to his door during mealtime.

  9. No, I read your comment, and I thought it was needlessly (and…dare I say…irrationally?) paranoid. I suspect that anyone who writes books about atheism like Dawkins’s or Hitchens’s books would certainly be characterized as “polemical,” but this is for an entirely different reason than their being best informed on the issues. If Hitchens and Dawkins are the best informed, then again, I simply say this is sad state for atheism in general.

  10. Aristarchus

     /  July 5, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    The Catholic church thinks it’s unfair to be polemical in a debate between religion and atheism? Really? And we’re supposed to hear that and keep a straight face? This isn’t Blaise Pascal. This is the organization that has, in the name of making people Catholic, engaged in wars, massacre, and torture. And yes, the Catholic church of today doesn’t do those things, but it still preaches that those who did are great men of honor who had a direct connection to God. It literally preaches that people who did things that today we would call crimes against humanity should be worshiped as saints. Not only is the Catholic church itself extremely polemical, but anyone who truly believed it was based on nothing (i.e. an atheist) and didn’t say things that would seem offensive to Catholics doesn’t really appreciate the implications of what they’re saying.

  11. NFQ,

    I agree with your mechanic analogy, but I am not sure what you are trying to get at with the Honda/VW extension.

    Asking Dawkins or Hitchens to debate top theologians is like asking an air-cooled VW mechanic to work on your water-cooled Honda. The common denominator is being ill-equipped for the job.

    …someone who’s written a book about the problems with Catholic doctrine is probably going to be better in this debate than someone who makes YouTube videos in response to Bible-thumpers, who is in turn probably going to be better than someone who just never went to church and is not too fond of evangelists coming to his door during mealtime.

    I agree. Like I said, I think it was the mention of Dawkins and Hitchens specifically, that threw me off. It sounded like you were championing them as equipped for the job.

    Andrew S,

    …antony flew certainly would be considered level-headed, and non-polemical, IMO.

    I agree. The difference between Flew and, say, Dawkins/Hitchens is night and day. The latter are to intellectualism as Green Day is to punk rock: watered-down, mainstream, for the mass consumption. Let’s face it – nuanced, well-reasoned arguments don’t sell books. Polemic does.

  12. If you buy into the ‘religion as meme’ concept (and I’m not saying I do, but it does have its merits), then you would expect that when the church, any church, claims they want a dialogue with their opponents, they will make sure, in a memetic way, that the process is juiced in their favor. It may be subconscious, but they don’t want disputation or polemics, because that could possible sway listeners against them. I’m sure they would be extremely happy to have atheists on one side who are boring as hell, who induce sleep with their arcane atheistic theories, because then the playing field is leveled. Theological theory, theological discussion, by its very nature, does not induce excitement. Dawkins and Hitchens do, because they bring real world relevance to their atheism (Dawkins via science, and Hitchens via journalism). One can’t bring real world relevance to theology, because it’s based on other-worldly assumptions.

    Not to mention that to the theist, especially those of the RC variety, any disputation of their beliefs is by definition heretical, blasphemous and hence polemical. Just watch Donohue get apoplectic at the least criticism of his church. Look at the pope cross-eyed, and it’s considered extreme disrespect (read: polemic). Frankly, the only way to show just how silly, stupid and irrational religious beliefs are is to exhibit extreme disrespect for those beliefs, IMHO.

    But that’s my particular bias.

  13. I can’t contribute in depth to this dispute (I’m sneaking a look from work), but if we’re picking time-travelling atheist debaters, I really support the nomination of Bertrand Russel, and I’d like to add Baruch Spinoza to the list (not an atheist in the modern tradition but had a number of interesting critiques of religion).

  14. I think it’s worth remembering in all this that Bertrand Russell is often quoted for his snappy lines like, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt,” or “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Spinoza openly and frankly admitted to being “a disturber of established religion.” Do you think these ideas, this behavior is stuff the Catholic church would describe as “noble”? Do you think, if either of these men were alive today, they would not have gotten named as high-profile individuals excluded from this program?

    Whenever someone says, “I’ll take on anyone in a debate on this topic … except for people I decide I don’t want to debate against,” we should look at that with at least a little bit of suspicion. If Catholics (or whoever) think that Dawkins (or whoever) is mischaracterizing religion or is ill-informed on dogma, then all the better for their side in the debate. He certainly refuses to mince words, he is frank about his complaints — but it’s not as though he would spend the entire debate blowing raspberries and shouting “Nyah nyah nyah” with his fingers in his ears (or any level of trollishness that would be worth kicking someone out of a debate forum for). He has arguments, and he makes them. If those arguments are truly bad ones, the Vatican should be happy to show the world why they are bad … unless they are not interested in substantive debate after all.

  15. I think you’re missing some of our point. It’s not to say that it is bad to be a “disturber of established religion.” Rather, the issue is whether an advocate has more substantive arguments and familiarity with the topics at hand. When you find “zinger” quotes from Spinoza or Russell, these are not the breadth or depth of their arguments. In fact, these zingers *aren’t* their arguments. If you want rigorous philosophy, a consideration of the critiques and the other side, etc., you will find them also with those kinds of speakers.

    But the kind of mantra of “new” atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., is that not only do they not really care about considering the other side, but they find such a pursuit frivolous — they don’t see why people actually *do* care about these things (except to say that people are deceived, or wishful, or whatever.)

    So, yes, I do think that the Catholic church would see these guys as “noble” or worthy for debate. Because they are not merely entertainers. They are not merely soundbites.

    I can see your point about looking with suspicion. But in this case, there is a clear and reasonable alternative for understanding why the Catholic church won’t “face” Dawkins or Hitchens — because they know from experience upon experience that these guys are professional clowns, essentially.

  16. Let’s try to ground this thing a bit more:

    …in an interview with the National Catholic Register, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, made it clear he would not be willing to give a platform to certain prominent atheists. The foundation, he said, would only be interested in “noble atheism or agnosticism, not the polemical kind – so not those atheists such as [Piergiorgio] Odifreddi in Italy, [Michel] Onfray in France, [Christopher] Hitchens and [Richard] Dawkins”. [source]

    NFQ,

    I think it’s worth remembering in all this that Bertrand Russell is often quoted for his snappy lines like, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt,” or “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Spinoza openly and frankly admitted to being “a disturber of established religion.”

    Granted, but compared to some notable lines from Dawkins, that’s soft porn, and honestly, I think the Archbishop is actually helping you out because at least two of the four atheists specifically named are certainly not theism’s most capable critics. Look at the upside: they’re saying they want real opponents. In the same way, I’d be disappointed if a prominent atheist group staged a debate where Ted Haggard, Fred Phelps and Rush Limbaugh represented the theist side.

  17. I’m getting really tired of these baseless assertions that Dawkins is a clown and whatnot. Yes, I’m sure he is more direct and harsher in tone than Bertrand Russell was, but only because Russell was using a very academic style when he called religious people morons. Dawkins gives talks at conventions and tiny clips of them get posted on YouTube; Russell wrote essays on philosophy primarily for other philosophers. Whoop de do. What have you proven? Mostly just that you don’t like it when someone is frank and direct when telling you that religious beliefs are stupid — you would prefer they couch it in flowery adjectives and complex sentence structure.

    If Dawkins et al. are making bad arguments or no arguments at all, I still maintain that the Catholic church should delight in the possibility to debate them. They will make all their brilliant and compelling arguments for Catholicism, Dawkins will dance and juggle, and the Catholics come out looking brilliant.

    Here is a more accurate version of your analogy, cl — imagine that an atheist group put out a notice saying they’d debate any theist who was interested, unless they were one of those prominent theists. And maybe they’d go on to name a couple, and happened to name Rush Limbaugh as one of them. It is not as though the Vatican is setting up one single debate between one Catholic theologian and one atheist, or even three Catholics vs. three atheists. It’s like, “Hey, come on atheists and agnostics, we want to talk to any of you who are interested! … Except you prominent ones.”

  18. It’s not just that he’s harsh.

    It’s that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You say Russell was using a more academic style. No, that’s academic and philosophical substance, not just style.

    You say whoop de do at this. But this is ENTIRELY the point. Russell studied philosophy, and cared about those nuances. Dawkins did not, and does not.

    If we turned this around, you would likely wholeheartedly agree. Dawkins is a biologist (a great one at that.) When creationists come around, peddling their stuff, it’s not just that they are “harsh” with their criticisms. It’s that they don’t know what they are talking about. Dawkins’s responses are not just “academic style.” They are substantively different than the creationist’s arguments.

    And they teach us something else. When Dawkins debates creationists, the superiority of biology does not come shining through. Unfortunately, although people in the know will recognize Dawkins’s science, many people see these videos and arguments as a slam against the evolution case. The superior argument doesn’t necessarily win.

    …I am baffled that you ACTUALLY seem to think that this is all about style, flowery adjectives, and complex sentence structure!

    But I’ll entertain it. Here’s the deal. You can make debate about style, flowery adjective, and complex sentence structure. You can make it about zingers, about looking good and sounding good. Think about presidential debates — think about the appearances that go into that. Think about the media — think about the ways that the media sets the public opinion (however they will).

    Brilliant arguments, like great art, aren’t always entertaining. Neither may immediately accessible to the average person (which is why we have to STUDY great art, but anyone can pick up a potboiler), but just because Twilight is a bestseller doesn’t mean it is superior to the classics.

    So, you act like the best argument will win, and that theatrics and zingers from Dawkins — if they are inferior — would be shown out as such in a debate. This is simply naive. Argumentation isn’t just logos. It is pathos and ethos, and many people respond well to the so-called dancing and juggling.

    So for people wanting to have a debate at a higher level, YES, there is an advantage to selectivity!

    To your analogy with cl, I could easily imagine (and JUSTIFY) any atheist group saying, “Come, theists…except Westboro Baptist Church.” We know what the end result is going to be; it’s going to ruin everything.

  19. If Dawkins literally shouted insults continuously, as the WBC does, I might buy what you are saying. I can see why a group might choose to exclude the possibility of “debating” someone who will only scream “GOD HATES FAGS!” over and over. Even then, I think that an atheist group would get amazing benefits from showing grace and poise in the face of verbal assault from these actual clowns.

    But what does Dawkins do that you think is clownish? The worst specific thing you have against him is that he presents evolutionary biology ineffectively in debates against creationists.

  20. *sigh*

    Dawkins specifically doesn’t even TRY to address theology. His entire argumentation against theology is, “It’s just like the study of leprechauns,” so when his poor grasp of theology is confronted, he simply says, “I don’t need to know it to refute it.”

    What’s Dawkins’s argument against the ontological argument (and his explanation for why Russell was far more troubled with it than him)? Oh, Russell simply wasn’t willing, like the Greeks, to let a paradox stand for years until further knowledge could falsify it. His argument is not to find any logical flaw therein, but to try to parody it to say, “see, this could show the exact opposite conclusion” (which isn’t even the case.)

    You can see, for example, William Lane Craig’s critique of Dawkins argument (which points out some of the witticisms that Dawkins uses that exposes his ignorance of philosophy here http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6831

  21. *sigh*

    Dawkins specifically doesn’t even TRY to address theology.

    Nor should he. He doesn’t need to. His whole schtick is that there is no evidence for gods, so, for all practical intents and purposes, there are no gods. Getting into arguments for the possibility of something that is assumed to exist by the theologian, before application of theology, is a waste of time and effort, until someone actually proves that which is assumed. Why any non-theologian would do so makes no sense.

    so when his poor grasp of theology is confronted, he simply says, “I don’t need to know it to refute it.”

    Again, why would he? That link to Craig is more embarrassing for Craig than Dawkins. All that theological quibbling, dressed up in fancy language, about a maximally great being is just that – quibbling. Actually, one could take Dawkins “witticism” about flying pigs and apply it to the ontological argument. This is probably what he meant to say on page 84 of “The God Delusion”

    1. It is possible that a pig having the ability to fly exists.

    2. If it is possible that a flying pig exists, then a flying pig exists in some possible world.

    3. If a flying pig exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

    4. If a flying pig exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

    5. If a flying pig exists in the actual world, then a flying pig exists.

    6. Therefore, a flying pig exists.

  22. NFQ,

    I’m getting really tired of these baseless assertions that Dawkins is a clown and whatnot… But what does Dawkins do that you think is clownish?

    If you’d like to give your definition of clown, I’ll either say, “No, Dawkins is not a clown,” or, “Yes, he is, and here’s why.”

    …you don’t like it when someone is frank and direct when telling you that religious beliefs are stupid — you would prefer they couch it in flowery adjectives and complex sentence structure.

    Actually, I love it when people are frank. It’s just that Dawkins’ horrible attempts at philosophy don’t justify his frankness. Frankness is fine – on YouTube, or on Dawkins’ own site. However, when the context is a public, ostensibly professional debate, that’s different, don’t you think?

    …I still maintain that the Catholic church should delight in the possibility to debate them. They will make all their brilliant and compelling arguments for Catholicism, Dawkins will dance and juggle, and the Catholics come out looking brilliant.

    So, they should delight in a handicap match? I disagree. Such would be disingenuous to their own position. It would also be disrespectful to viewers who want a more high-level debate.

    It is not as though the Vatican is setting up one single debate between one Catholic theologian and one atheist, or even three Catholics vs. three atheists. It’s like, “Hey, come on atheists and agnostics, we want to talk to any of you who are interested! … Except you prominent ones.”

    That’s not what they said. They referred to certain prominent atheists, then specifically named four. Where’s the problem?

    Andrew S,

    It’s that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You say Russell was using a more academic style. No, that’s academic and philosophical substance, not just style… Russell studied philosophy, and cared about those nuances. Dawkins did not, and does not.

    That’s absolutely right.

    If we turned this around, you would likely wholeheartedly agree. Dawkins is a biologist (a great one at that.) When creationists come around, peddling their stuff, it’s not just that they are “harsh” with their criticisms. It’s that they don’t know what they are talking about. Dawkins’s responses are not just “academic style.” They are substantively different than the creationist’s arguments.

    Woohoo! You go! I wholeheartedly agree.

    To your analogy with cl, I could easily imagine (and JUSTIFY) any atheist group saying, “Come, theists…except Westboro Baptist Church.” We know what the end result is going to be; it’s going to ruin everything.

    That’s exactly why it’s within reason to be discriminate in the selection of one’s opponents.

    Dawkins specifically doesn’t even TRY to address theology. His entire argumentation against theology is, “It’s just like the study of leprechauns,” so when his poor grasp of theology is confronted, he simply says, “I don’t need to know it to refute it.”

    Yup, and as you can see from SI’s comment, that’s the type of crap Dawkins feeds to the multitudes in TGD, which they in turn uphold as some “shining light of reason.” [VOMIT!!]

    SI,

    Getting into arguments for the possibility of something that is assumed to exist by the theologian, before application of theology, is a waste of time and effort, until someone actually proves that which is assumed.

    Stand back and take a look at that for a second: you just said that getting into arguments for the possibility of God is a waste of time and effort until someone actually proves that which is assumed. How is that not totally backwards? There’s no need to debate what’s been proved.

    Actually, one could take Dawkins “witticism” about flying pigs and apply it to the ontological argument.

    I actually happen to agree with you there. I’m not a fan of the ontological argument. That I can imagine something is no proof or even evidence of its existence. Though he does make some strong arguments from time to time, I’ve never been much of a Craig fan. I’d actually like to debate him.

    At the same time, that the ontological argument is silly doesn’t give Dawkins the right to ignore all of theology. So, I think you should quit making excuses for Dawkins’ childish refusal to educate himself on the subject matter. You would expect no less from a critic of evolution, as Andrew S pointed out.

  23. you just said that getting into arguments for the possibility of God is a waste of time and effort until someone actually proves that which is assumed. How is that not totally backwards? There’s no need to debate what’s been proved.

    Bingo! Now you’re catching on. If there was proof of god, theology would make sense, and there’d be no need to debate it.

    Theology assumes the existence of god, and proceeds to discuss all the fine nuances of his goodness (or badness), his character, what he expects from us, etc, etc, and more boring etc. Why waste a minute educating oneself about a non-existent being?

    So, I think you should quit making excuses for Dawkins’ childish refusal to educate himself on the subject matter. You would expect no less from a critic of evolution, as Andrew S pointed out.

    Andrew pointed out the Courtiers Reply. I know you’re familiar with it. Your answer is there.

    I would expect someone who is discussing evolution to know something about it, because it is an established fact. Even theists acknowledge that it is true. They just don’t agree with what they mis-characterize as “macro” evolution, and they mis-characterize it out of ignorance, or in order to claim that they disagree with it, or both. It’s not comparable to theology, because the existence of god isn’t even close to an established fact. Dawkins’, and my, criticism of theology is that it is a non-subject, not worthy of study. You don’t need to know anything about it to discuss and come to conclusions about the existence of god, any more than you would need to master leprechaunology to discuss the existence of leprechauns.

    I’m glad you don’t buy the ontological argument. We actually agree on something! I presume you noticed that one could conjure up anything in one’s imagination and prove it’s true, merely by inserting it in the argument in place of “maximally great being”. You might as well shorten the argument, delete steps 2-5 and assert “It’s possible that {X} exists, therefore {X} exists”.

  24. This is kind of off the main thread of the discussion, but I’m wondering: do people think we have an obligation to engage with people who we think are crazy or intellectually dishonest, if they enjoy a great deal of popular respect?

    People on this thread have compared Dawkins to Haggard, Phelps and Limbaugh, and, although I disagree with the comparison, I see what you’re getting at. The trouble is, even when I don’t respect some of my opponents, I can’t afford to let them go unanswered and unchallenged.

    This is a question for everyone: do you think there’s any way to design a debate with someone you believe to be unreasonable/ignorant/dishonest, such that it might be possible to convince their followers? Or are you conceding too much by granting them legitimacy and a forum?

    –Leah @ Unequally Yoked

  25. do people think we have an obligation to engage with people who we think are crazy or intellectually dishonest, if they enjoy a great deal of popular respect?

    I’ve had this discussion with atheist friends many times. Especially on blogs like this, there is a big lurker component as an audience, and while I’ll never convince someone like, say cl up there, I still won’t shy away from discussion with him (unless he does his little paraphrase trick that slightly changes what you say, then argues against it, and I get pissed off at him and call him names, and,… well, I digress). Sometimes you have to address what you think is unreasonable, delusional, or downright stupid, because you know there are others out that think like that, but may be having doubts, and your refutation might convince them to change their mind.

    Now, YECs are hopeless, but there are others….

    Actually that doesn’t answer your question, does it? You’re talking about nutcases like Limbaugh, hypocrites like Haggerty, and POEs like Phelps. I don’t think I’ll ever be in a position to debate them, but I think others should, for the reasons I said above. Think of the brains out there crying for real knowledge. It’s so hard to allow stupidity to go unanswered.

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